What is a proper zakuski party spread without a few choice salads, hearty, yet fresh? Not much to my mind, and so I’m including a couple of typichni saladchiki (typical salads) for you to add to your little feast. Among all of the heavier, cream laden dishes, these provide a little relief, with bright flavors, and a healthy dose of both garlic and pickles, classic Russian favorites. These are items that any good Russian deli makes in abundance and that I crave regularly like an American kid might crave Macaroni & Cheese or Cheerios. However, those Russian delis can be as rare as hens’ teeth, so these simple recipes are lovely to pull out and use not only during the Olympics, but for picnics and lunchtime treats.
There are two ingredients which I think many people from my part of the world shy away from that the Russians adore: beets and smoked fish. They are among my favorite things to eat and I attribute my many years and many meals in Moscow to what to many might be an acquired taste. They are ingredients which with hindsight make sense in the Russian larder – they both last a very long time and were in abundance across the Soviet empire. The shops may have been largely empty, with the government relying heavily on staples such as root vegetables and canned meat and jars of preserved fish and bologna and little rectangles of candies wrapped in brightly colored paper.
As the years have passed I am often struck with a huge sense of guilt and shame because of my extreme naivete regarding food during all those years we lived in Moscow. The few privileged locals we encountered were warm and generous, providing us lavish meals in their homes. It was often a case of hospitality run amok. The child in me didn’t think about the majority for whom these kinds of meals were as rare as a trip to the moon or the possibility that our hosts were calling in favors or buying food on the black market to appear better off than they really were. Alas, I assumed everyone ate as well as I did even if it was a menu full of oddities. I had no idea how dire and complicated something as seemingly simple as food could be.
First up is my heady with garlicky roasted beet salad. Like with the borscht recipe from earlier this week, I roast the beets for extra sweetness and then wait until they’re cool enough to handle so I can slip off the skins and then grate the beets on a box grater. This dish is packed full of garlic, an almost eye-watering amount (you will be kissing only those who have eaten it as well) and crunchy walnuts. When using raw garlic like this, make sure and remove any trace of green germ from the middle of your cloves. It has a harsh, bitter taste that you don’t want. Trust me when I say, you’ll be craving this too!
1 pound beets, roasted until tender and grated
3 large cloves garlic, smashed until creamy with sea salt in a mortar and pestle
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (I like kewpie)
1 tablespoon smetana or sour cream
zest and juice of one lemon
1/3 cup toasted and chopped walnuts
salt and pepper to taste
Simply combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. I like to let this sit for a while so the garlic can permeate the entire dish!
Meanwhile this smoked trout recipe, with it’s lashings of capers, cornichons, and herbs offers us the first appearance of potatoes in this week’s menu, a diet staple in the Russia I remember. The oily fish pairs remarkably well with an ice cold shot of vodka and is lovely with the black bread I’ll be writing about tomorrow.
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
juice of one lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 pound smoked trout, flaked
1/4 pound fingerling potatoes
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons chopped cornichons
1/4 cup chopped chives and parsley
zest of one lemon
First place the potatoes in a saucepan of cold water and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes or until tender. Drain and allow the potatoes to cool (but not completely as they’ll soak up the flavors of the dressing much better if still slightly warm). In a bowl mix together the mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper and olive oil. Once the potatoes are cool enough to work with, cut them into thick coins place them in the bowl with the dressing and toss well. Now add the remaining ingredients, toss again and taste for seasoning.